Our Work

Women living in poverty play a high-stakes game

By Kathleen McGavey

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” women are told: “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.”

As director of The Legal Aid Society of Columbus, I’ve thought repeatedly about how Sandberg’s idea applies in my own professional life. But despite the fact that I work with low-income women and their families, it wasn’t until I read “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” by Matthew Desmond, that I thought about how this idea effects poor women.

Using real-world examples from Desmond’s book, “leaning in” can bring about harm and negative consequences that are unique to women living in poverty.

Gender perspective on eviction

While living in a Wisconsin trailer park, Desmond follows the lives of individuals, many of whom fall behind on their rent, on the verge of eviction. He notices a gender difference.

Men, he states, are more likely to talk to the landlord, explain the circumstances, try to get an extension and offer to do odd jobs around the rental complex to make up some of the difference. Women, however, are observed hiding in their units, closing the blinds and hoping no one notices them. That, you might think, explains the difference in eviction rates by gender.

Desmond reports that three of every four African Americans who were evicted in Milwaukee were female. The Community Shelter Board, a nonprofit that oversees Columbus’ response to homelessness, reports that nationally 78 percent of families with children in the shelter system have a female adult in the household, while only 22 percent have a male adult.

With these statistics, the solution seems easy. Poor women, like more highly educated, affluent professional women, need only to “lean in.” They need to be assertive, talk to the landlord and see what they might do to avoid eviction.

But low-income women have learned the perils of such an approach much more painfully than those of us with professional careers.

Read the rest of the article at Smart Business

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